Stan Usery, Jr.
Limestone County, Alabama
Stan Usery, Jr. and his father share day-to-day management of their 760-acre farm in Limestone County. They have 9 (40’ x 400’) poultry houses that produce over 5.5 million pounds of meat annually and an abundance of chicken litter. With all that manure, the family began fertilizing their 700 no-till acres of cotton, wheat, corn, and soybeans with the litter.
“Cotton is our major crop because it provides the most consistent performance under our climate and environmental conditions,” Usery said. He rotates cotton with wheat and double crops soybeans; in addition to using corn in his rotation. “Generally crops are rotated every year. We limit monocropping unless weather prohibits planting due to excessive wetness or dryness,” he said.
The Userys are strictly no-till because it uses less fuel and labor, maintains a better soil structure with better water in filtration, improves organic matter, and leads to higher yields. Stan said his long-term no-till fields can tolerate droughts better than traditional tillage fields. Planting rye cover helps the Userys build organic matter, reduce erosion, and improve their overall soil health.
To compete with larger operations, Usery looked to new advances in farm technology (namely GPS) to improve his ability to manage and plant in high residue. He uses guidance and auto-steering on his manure spreader, planter, and sprayer, and has a section control on the planter and sprayer, variable rate capabilities on the spreader, and a yield monitor on the combine.
Precision placement of chemicals and nutrients has saved the farm money by helping them limit over application. GPS technology allows them to apply chicken litter where it’s needed, reduce overlaps and skips, and improve record keeping. They adjust application rates for nitrogen and phosphorus by basing decisions on yearly soil testing, cropping history, topography, and yield maps.
Usery earned his B.S. degree from Auburn University in agronomy and a master’s degree in plant pathology. He constructed a soil lab on his family’s farm to test for nematodes and has earned a reputation among his peers as a result. Seed companies recommend that their customers send samples to his lab for testing. “Much of my satisfaction in this endeavor comes from assisting farmers in my local area,” Usery said.
“I feel that improving soil health is a long term commitment that requires discipline and patience,” he continued. “Organic matter and soil structure take years to develop, but can be destroyed instantly with one tillage pass. Crop rotation with high residue crops such as wheat, double crop beans, and corn provides us the opportunity to build organic matter when growing a low residue crop like cotton.”